ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – The Zamboanga siege is over, Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas announced on Saturday, September 28.
Asked if it was “mission accomplished” for the team on the 20th day of the Zamboanga crisis, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin replied, “Primarily the mission was to take the hostages, make them safe… we have accounted for all the hostages.” (We had previously attributed the quote of “mission accomplished” to government officials when it was, in fact, asked as a question. We regret the error.)
Roxas said in a mix of English and Filipino that forces that laid a siege on parts of Zamboanga City have been repulsed and arrested. Government forces are entering phase 2, which involves clearing operations, after which phase 3, or reconstruction, will start.
President Benigno Aquino III said that about P4 billion has been allotted for reconstruction. Roxas said almost 10,000 houses were destroyed and burned down in an area that stretches 30 hectares. “Malaki ang damage dito,” he said. (The damage here is huge.)
During ceremonies of the Western Mindanao Command’s Tribute to the Heroes of Zamboanga Siege, Roxas said, “The siege in Zamboanga City is over. We honor the fallen, the brave and the soldiers and policemen who died for their countrymen.”
As of Saturday night, September 27, there were 18 killed in action from the Armed Forces, and 5 from the police. At least 12 civilians have died, according to the Zamboanga City government. 247 Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels were arrested, 166 killed, and 24 surrendered.
Where is Malik?
They are still in the process of identifying the bodies, Roxas said, adding that they are determining whether MNLF commander Habier Malik is among them.
“We will concentrate on cadavers that resemble Malik,” Gazmin said.
“Di pa tapos ang trabaho ng soldiers dito dahil hindi naman namin iiwanan ang PNP dito… nakasuporta pa rin ang AFP sa PNP doon sa operations,” Gazmin said. (The work of soldiers is not yet done because we cannot leave behind the PNP [Philippine National Police]… the AFP continues to support PNP operations.)
There were no firefights overnight but they still continue the clearing operations there, the government-run PTV said. Gazmin said there are at least 3 MNLF rebels hiding in the Sta Catalina area.
Police forces will now lead clearing operations, while the military will act as the walls that would repel anyone who may attempt to enter the area.
Roxas, Gazmin, and Armed Forces chief of staff Emmanuel Bautista visited Sta Catalina to check on the situation there, as well as on the troops still operating in the area.
Meanwhile, Roxas said all reports and evidence are now being studied by the intelligence community and by the Department of Justice for the filing of appropriate charges.
Asked how long it will take for the place to normalize, Roxas said, “Ang estimate mga 10 days to two weeks. Nakita naman niyo talagang masikip at hindi kwadra-kwadrado ang pagtayo ng mga bahay dito. Ang iniiwasan natin dito mga booby trap, mga IED, and of course gusto rin nating makuha kung may natitirang mga bangkay at mga armas, ammunitions na naiiwan dito.”
(The estimate is 10 days to two weeks. You saw how crowded it is and houses are not built in blocks. What we are avoiding are booby traps. And of course we want to recover remaining bodies and arms, ammunitions that may have been left behind.)
He added, “Itong buong area na ito na ayon sa mapa na more or less 30 or 40 hectares ay susuyurin at talagang lilinisin ng AFP at PNP bago pabayaaan na makabalik dito…” (Based on the map, this area that is more or less 30 or 40 hectares, will be combed and cleared by the AFP and PNP before residents are allowed to return. – with reports from Patricia Evangelista and Karlos Manlupig/Rappler.com